This was written for the Tron Female Character Ficathon.
Written For: Ridyr-writing
Era: Uprising (sometime shortly after Episode 3)
Summary: Prompt: "Paige has to go for the garage for something or another, and ends up having to work with Mara to prevent the catastrophe of your choosing." Paige's desires for a routine light cycle upgrade go awry when a hostage situation arises in Able's garage.
A Temporary Friendship
Paige does not like to be rescued.
The fact that she had to be rescued from the explosion was humiliating enough, but that her rescuer was The Renegade is even worse. She looks for the easiest scapegoat: her equipment. Her light cycle just wasn't fast enough. If she's going to keep serving CLU, she's going to need a better bike.
Tesler was generous enough to provide her with a new light cycle, but it's the same as her old one, and that's no longer good enough. It needs to be as strong as she is, as fast, as capable. She needs to make sure she won't need to be rescued again. A new, top-of-the-line bike is out of her price range – the rewards of serving CLU are more moral than monetary – but she has enough stashed away for some upgrades.
And so, on her afternoon off, she heads to the best garage in town. There's been some trouble there before, and the owner, called Able, is mentioned a few times in their files. She's been doing this long enough to know that a few mentions probably means there's a lot more beneath the surface; before she leaves, she switches her circuitry to white and lets her hair down. Better to be anonymous than to cause potential political strife.
It's odd to travel the streets as a civilian; she's accustomed to programs respectfully parting before her to let her pass, and she finds she has forgotten to read the social cues that normal programs follow in crowds. A few times, she bumps into others, and they shoot her cross looks. How quickly she has forgotten her old life.
A bit humbled, she arrives at the garage. A girl runs up to her, and she recognizes the hairstyle: the same shape and colour as a crashing wave. So many faces come and go every day that she can't quite place her. The girl squints at her, clearly recognizing her as well, but then gives her a polite smile.
"Hello. I'm Mara. How can I help you today?"
Paige hands her the baton. "I'm looking to upgrade my bike."
Mara brings her over to a set of projection screens as they discuss her budget and the available upgrades. Out of habit, Paige casually surveys the area, looking for all exits and choke points. Several of the employees are filtering through the door, and there are almost no customers left.
"Are you closing?" she asks.
"Oh, it's okay," says Mara. "I've been wanting to work a little extra overtime, anyway. If you don't mind waiting, this shouldn't take more than an hour or two. Or you can come back tomorrow."
The girl gives her a sweet smile and thanks her, and Paige finds herself immediately liking her. Mara reminds her of a time before bitterness and duty hardened her, back when she wasn't afraid to connect with people around her. With a frown, she follows Mara to a waiting room in the back, then pulls out her tablet to immerse herself in military life while she waits. All this introspection is only going to undermine her focus, if she lets it.
She's just dancing her way around the wording of a message to Pavel when a series of yells and clatters sounds from the main shop. She leaps to her feet and is already drawing her disc when Mara steps into the doorway, eyes wide.
"I'm so sorry," she whispers. "Your bike is done, but you have to stay back here." She steps into the room and closes the door, pressing her ear against it.
"Mara," asks Paige, using her most commanding whisper, "tell me what's going on."
"Well, you know how there are a lot of gangs forming right now? This one's been bothering Able about getting special equipment donations. Able refused, and I guess they decided to come take what they wanted anyway."
Paige's stomach turns. This is exactly the kind of crime she's trying to prevent by serving CLU. "How many are there?"
"I don't know; about a dozen." Mara's hands curl into fists; she's still listening at the door. Her words come out in a rush: "They took a few people hostage, and Able's trying to reason with them now. I don't know if it's going to work. But they said they'd start killing people if they heard sirens, so we can't call in the law enforcement."
Disc still in hand, Paige joins her at the door. She can't make out the words, but she hears a calm, reasoning tone answered by a shrill yell. If they're shrill, they're panicking, and if they're panicking, then they're going to be impossible to reason with. In her experience, that means that things are going to get messy. She could just leave now and avoid the whole fuss, but her sense of justice demands that she help these programs.
Besides, she wants her bike.
"Can you fight?" she asks Mara, stepping back.
The girl looks at her, shocked. "Fight?"
"Because I can. I'm going in." She pulls out her tablet and opens a blank page. "I need you to sketch out their layout. Where they are, where your coworkers are."
Mara still looks a bit stunned, but she accepts the tablet and begins to draw; as she works, Paige recalls the exits that she memorized, trying to determine a strategic angle of attack. Based on the way Mara's drawing is shaping up, their best bet will be to leave the shop and come in through the front door.
"Were there more outside?" she asks.
Mara shakes her head no. "They all came in. Two of them are watching the front door, here." She marks them on the map.
"Too far apart for me to take them both out, but too close for me to take one out without the other noticing," mutters Paige, rubbing the bridge of her nose. Of course.
"Not if I help."
The two women study each other, then Paige nods. "If you feel you're in danger at any time, you run."
"Okay." Mara gives a nervous smile as she withdraws her disk. "Follow me. I know a shortcut to the front."
As she opens the door, Paige can hear a voice:
"-put the disc down. We can settle this without-"
"This way," whispers Mara, pointing down a hallway to their right. It leads to a service corridor, and Paige keeps a low profile as they run. Mara stops her at a door at the end of the hallway.
"This drops us just inside the main entrance," she says softly. "It's a small jump to the floor; there used to be a ramp here, but-"
Paige stops her with a nod. "You take the close guard; I'll take the far one. Wait for my signal."
The door slides open to reveal the main room of the garage. It's just as Mara's drawing depicted: a group of ten or so programs has each taken an employee hostage. Able stands before them, palms open, voice soothing. A guard is on either side of the main door, backs to them.
Paige lowers herself down from the doorway – the drop is only about half her body height, but still enough that a direct fall would cause unnecessary noise. She silently races along the doorway, only slowing when she's in the guards' periphery. Stealth has always come easily to her, and she positions herself squarely behind the far guard. Mara stands behind the other guard, waiting.
Able must have noticed what's going on, because he's talking louder, waving his hands, fully captivating his audience.
It is time for their offense to begin.
Paige nods at Mara, then darts forward. She flips and locks her legs around her target's neck, then uses her momentum to twist her body, throwing him to the ground. He lands with a heavy thump – thankfully, the background din in the garage is loud enough that no one seems to notice. Once she's sure he's unconscious, Paige releases him and stands. It had been a needlessly flashy attack, but an unaware street thug is no challenge for her, and she does love to use a little flash when she can get away with it.
Mara stands over her downed opponent, breathing hard. It looks like her takedown wasn't so clean; there's a glowing wound on her cheek. Paige hurries across the room to her and pulls her down behind a crate.
"Here, I can heal that for you," she whispers, but Mara shakes her head.
"Not until the others are safe."
Paige gives her an approving nod, then peers around the corner. "Who leads this gang?" It isn't immediately apparent from the layout.
"Those two seemed to be the leaders." Mara points at a woman with short red hair and a tall, stocky man.
Squinting at them, Paige tries to deconstruct the situation. "If we can manoeuvre ourselves to grab each of them, we can gain the upper hand."
"You seem pretty capable," whispers Mara. "You mind taking the big one?"
"I was hoping you'd ask."
A couple of the gang members see them coming, but only one reacts fast enough to pose a threat; he swings his light disc in an arc, and Paige skids on her knees to avoid it – she hears it whir just above her as it passes. In her periphery, she can see Mara flip through the air to avoid a similar blow. Impressive acrobatics, especially for a civilian.
Before anyone else can react, she rakes her hand into the back of her target's hair and jerks him down to her level, her disc buzzing against his throat. He struggles, but she's strong, and she holds fast. Beside her, Mara holds the red-haired woman.
Suddenly freed, the two employees who were being held captive by the leaders spin, their discs on the leaders as well.
"Well," says Able, clasping his hands behind his back, "it would seem we're at an impasse."
Paige opens her mouth to contribute, but Mara beats her to it:
"Leave us alone, or I'll derez her!" Mara's lips are flared and her eyes are flashing, and the redhead in her grip looks truly terrified. Around them, the other gang members begin to murmur.
Attagirl, thinks Paige. "Stand down now," she adds, "and no one gets hurt." She feels the man she's holding begin to squirm, so she lightly presses the tip of her disc against his throat, reminding him that he's in no position to argue. His eyes squeeze shut.
"Stand down," he barks.
His thugs comply.
The instant they're released, several of the employees draw their discs, but Able holds up a hand. "Let them leave."
The gang members file out of the garage. Mara sinks to her knees and begins to cry, and Paige's heart breaks: she recognizes that emotion well, the instinctive reaction to post-battle stress. It took her several fights to get over it herself. Able starts toward her, but Paige holds up a hand.
"Let me," she says. "I can heal her."
She crouches down by the girl and drapes an arm around her. Mara lifts her head, wiping her eyes.
"I'm sorry. I was just so scared."
"You did great." With a smile, Paige adds, "I picked the worst day to come here, didn't I?"
Mara laughs through her tears, and Paige helps her stand. It feels good to comfort someone like this, peer to peer. If she's honest with herself, she's missed having friends. Tesler is dour, and Pavel – well, Pavel is an ass. And no one else really talks to her unless they're reporting to her.
They walk together to the workstation.
"Here's your light cycle." Mara holds out the baton; she seems to have found her composure again, though her hands are still visibly shaking. "I think you'll like the upgrades. Lots of speed, and a good power boost." She smiles, then winces as the movement stretches the wound on her face, and Paige reaches out a hand to catch her chin.
"Here, I can fix that cut for you."
As she works, Paige adds, "You were pretty good back there. You've got some good fighting skills, and you took real initiative when you were telling them to back down." Maybe she can recruit her.
"Oh." Mara shrugs, embarrassed. "Thank you."
With a few finishing touches, the wound is healed. "There. As good as if it never happened at all."
"Thank you. But it did, and it's going to keep happening," says Mara, looking down. "With all the oppression and fear, more and more people are getting desperate."
The words chill Paige, but she won't let herself consider them, not while she's in plainclothes, not after being Mara's ally. Instead, she claps a hand to the girl's shoulder.
"Tonight, Mara, you proved that you're strong, that you can protect what's yours. Never forget that."
The two exchange a smile, and Paige realizes that their brief alliance is coming to an end. She almost asks her out for a night on the town, but her leave is almost up. Tesler will be waiting for her to report in.
"Thanks, Mara," she says, and then she steps back, summons her light cycle, and prepares to return to her normal life. She has given up friendships like these specifically so that she can dedicate her life to protecting people like Mara.
She clings to the thought, hoping it will console her.